How Can We Close the Software Engineering Gender Gap?

Software engineering is one of the leading professions in the tech industry; whether you want a piece of software, an application or a website, a software engineer will be involved. However, the chances are that you’ll be working with a man. As with many science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, there is a significant gender gap when it comes to software engineering, and it’s something that drastically needs to change. 

What is the Software Engineering Gender Gap?

While the world as a whole has made huge strides towards gender equality over the past years, the technology industry has been left in its wake with women still vastly underrepresented; nowhere is that more true than in the field of software engineering. A survey in August 2022 found that an incredible 92% of software developers worldwide were male. And the issue runs across the whole of the career path; women account for fewer STEM graduates, are underrepresented across all skill levels and occupy fewer leadership roles. In fact, the gender gap widens as seniority increases. 

Why Are There So Few Female Software Engineers? 

It stands to reason that there are some pretty significant underlying reasons that are standing in the way of female software engineers. Some of the key factors that influence gender disparity in the industry include:

  • Lack of Role Models – a lack of representation for women can hinder their ability to succeed as software engineers. It can put limits on their opportunities for mentorship and sponsorship and gender bias can have a significant impact on company culture, leaving very few career progression opportunities. 
  • Gender Stereotypes – when any group is made aware of a negative stereotype, they tend to lean towards it. This means that women can be discouraged from pursuing a career in software engineering due to the belief that it is a male-dominated industry they are unlikely to succeed in. 
  • Biassed Talent Pool – as fewer women pursue STEM courses and go on to study software engineering, employees have a gender-biassed talent pool to recruit from. 
  • Leadership Gap – with so few women in senior management or executive positions, women within the industry can feel that they quickly reach a glass ceiling, thereby impacting employee engagement and retention.
  • Affinity Bias – we gravitate toward people like ourselves, whether in appearance, belief or background. As there are so many men in positions of power within software engineering, they are much more likely to give further opportunities to other men. 

Women who do pursue careers in software engineering are fighting an uphill battle. They find themselves pushed to execution roles, while their male counterparts take the technical roles. Not only is this unfair, it has significant implications for the industry as a whole.

Why Does The Gender Gap Matter? 

It’s clear how the gender gap is unfair to aspiring female software engineers. However, the gender gap has far wider-reaching implications. Gender diversity benefits business in the same way that diversity does. Across all industries, it has been shown that a better gender balance increases company profitability. By being more gender diverse, businesses are more innovative and can pull from a wider range of experiences and viewpoints. What’s more, with a wider range of perspectives, they’re better placed to solve problems, which is key when it comes to software engineering. 

Ultimately, with almost half the population being discarded, the software engineering industry is missing a huge trick. There is a huge amount of talent that software companies could be tapping into. By including women and recruiting more talent, more tech developments will happen and the more advanced everyone’s products and solutions will become. 

What Steps Can We Take to Reduce the Gender Gap

There is lots that can be done to reduce the gender gap in software engineering and create a more equal, talented and balanced workforce. Some of the key steps we can take include:

  • Changing Mindsets – women need to be encouraged to participate in software engineering and to be made to feel that it’s a field that they can not only participate in but thrive in. 
  • Engaging Schools – the mindset change needs to happen at a young age. As such, schools need to not only introduce girls to STEM fields but to actively encourage them to participate and give them equal access to technical skills.
  • Championing Role Models – despite the odds, there are some amazing female role models in the industry; everything they can do to inspire their younger counterparts will help encourage them to follow in their footsteps. 
  • Encouraging Networking – creating opportunities for women to network with each other in the industry can help create a feeling of community and collaboration; it’s an opportunity to share experiences, build skills and cheer each other on. 
  • Improving Recruitment – the hiring process needs to change to appeal to underrepresented groups. Gender-neutral recruitment is fundamental, with job descriptions demonstrating a commitment towards opportunities for all in an inclusive environment. 
  • Creating Partnerships – better partnerships are needed between academic institutions and employers to create graduate programs, intern initiatives and the ability to shadow other women in the industry. 
  • Embracing Inclusivity – organisations that foster an inclusive culture have better employee engagement and retention, so it makes sense to ensure diversity and inclusion initiatives align with workplace values. 
  • Valuing Retention – recruitment is the first part of the battle, retention is the next. Inclusion should be embedded in company culture to make sure women feel equally valued, respected and able to contribute as their male counterparts. 

Securing the Future of Software Engineering

Everyone in the software engineering industry has a role to play in ensuring it’s a fully inclusive workplace. Stereotypes and unconscious biases should be unacceptable in today’s society. While the problem isn’t something that can be solved overnight, we can all play a part in encouraging more women to not only join the industry but stay there. 

There is a significant shortage of tech talent full stop. Hiring more women makes sense for the sustained health and growth of the industry, not to mention company culture and the possibilities for increased innovation. However, the first step in driving change is in raising awareness. Hopefully, this has got you thinking and you can help to make a much-needed change.

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